on jan gehl, ‘public spaces public life’ [reading]

i am in continual admiration for copenhagen’s foresight in the 1960s to gradually move from a car-traffic-parking culture to a people-walking-biking haven.

as i turned the pages of this book, i realized that i knew almost every street and square that was highlighted, and thinking of each one filled me with a sense of happiness and…gratitude.  over the past four months, i have had such pleasant experiences walking down stroget (pedestrianized in 1962), fiolstraede (in 1968), kobmagergade (1973), straedet (1992), and so many other friendly little streets.  i look back home to new jersey and new york and wonder if we, too, will have the foresight to bring such delightful public spaces into american culture.

i found it especially charming that inner Copenhagen is described by Jan Gehl as a “one-story city” — without second/third story pedestrian networks or footbridges, so that everything important occurs at ground level (with the help of attractive ground floor facades), encouraging the concentration of urban activities.  there are also very few, if any, privately-owned shopping areas (read: MALLS) in the center of the city, meaning that when people gather, it will be in a public space.

one of my favorite places to simply ‘be’ is Kultorvet.  located on my way to and from University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of African Studies (where i have my human rights in africa class), i’ve had the privilege to see this square in all of its various seasonal cloaks.  on a winter day, when other streets might be lacking life, Kultorvet was always a major throughfare, with hardy UNICEF volunteers enthusiastically trying to gather donations in the freezing weather from fast-walking pedestrians.  at night, this square was also a major intersection for young people who were traveling from trendy bar to trendy bar (or dashing in and out of the savior 7-11 on the corner) in the downtown area.

now that it’s spring, at least four restaurants in the square have thrown their tables, chairs, and tablecloths outside, while masses of suncatchers sit, dine, drink wine, and relax al fresco.  last week, i bought an ice cream cone from Paradis, and tried to look for a seat somewhere in the square.  after 5 minutes of searching, i ended up sitting on the ground for an hour, slurping up my noisette ice cream and enjoying the Alanis Morissette-singing guitar-strumming danish minstrel next to me.




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